Apple’s iPhone 6 Has Finally Convinced Me

It was bound to happen sooner or later: A smartphone would convince me that I no longer needed to carry around a powerful compact camera, despite a general interest in taking photos that straddles both my professional and personal lives. The iPhone 6 and the even more photo-friendly iPhone 6 Plus are that tipping point.

While on paper the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cameras don’t appear to have changed much from the version introduced last year with the iPhone 5s, as is usually the case with Apple hardware, there’s a lot more going on than is apparent from a cursory glance at a spec sheet. The 6 Plus gets optical image stabilization, of course, but both cameras represent big improvements over last year’s 5s in terms of shooting experience and final result (less haze, better color rendering). The faster AF is instantly noticeable, and the low-light image quality is by far superior.

It’s the low-light picture quality (without triggering the flash, this isn’t amateur night) that really seals the deal on this phone becoming my primary personal camera. For bar outings and nighttime gatherings, I’ve been a slave to carrying at least a large-sensor compact, first Canon’s S100 and then later the Sony RX-100 (first generation). These produced good results, without triggering the fun-time-ruining, in-camera flash — even in bars where it’s hard to make out the features of the person sitting next to you. But for all their size advantages over DSLRs and interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras, they’re still cumbersome, and they’re still an added gadget in addition to your phone.

The fact is that the performance of both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in low-light conditions is more than acceptable. At full res on a desktop, it’s true that you can see noise, and they aren’t as crisp around the edges as pictures taken in well-lit environments, but they look terrific when viewed on the iPhones themselves in your library, or when shared via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

I’ve given up on the idea that I’ll ever actually print any of my photographs, which was a fantasy that persisted for at least a decade from the time I got my first DSLR. Even when I cut my teeth on a basic Rebel film SLR, I hardly printed any of the results, so I’m not sure why the delusion survived 10 years and mountains of evidence to the contrary.

That’s not to say Apple’s mobile cameras couldn’t handle printing: in most cases, especially in good, daylight conditions, they most definitely could. But the truth is that for around 98 percent of the use cases that most people will need over the course of their adult lives, the resolution and quality that Apple’s iPhones now offer more than fits the bill. That goes for image-quality snobs like myself, too – holdouts from a bygone era who clung to the notion that compact cameras still have a role to play in a world that has mostly moved on.

I’m still a camera geek, and I will forever enjoy a good physical control dial, but the iPhone 6 has finally undone my ability to justify carrying a separate camera that isn’t a DSLR, and then I’ll only bring out the big guns for professional use situations. It even manages decent bokeh for close-up shots, as you can see from some of my samples above, and it’s a more innocuous street shooter than just about any dedicated camera, though the gold iPhone 6 Plus can be an eye-catching combo.

From this point on, the question isn’t whether smartphone cameras can catch up to their standalone counterparts, it’s how much better they can get in their own right.


A Manual iPhone Camera, Finally

“Finally” is a funny word, especially when it comes to Apple. I try to avoid using it because I’m cognizant of the fact that Apple’s pacing is often a lot different than the hive mind’s idea of what it should be.

Just see how long it took to implement third-party keyboards in a way that was satisfactory security-wise for an example.

But, as the iPhone long-ago crossed the rubicon of becoming the most popular camera in the world, I think Apple has taken its extra sweet time in allowing developers — and by extension, users — access to more control over the camera that’s always with them.

iOS 8 does just that, opening up tons of controls over focus, shutter speed, manual white balance and gray card support, ISO (“film” speed), exposure compensation and more. Developers can build truly powerful, flexible photography apps for the iPhone…finally.

As photography used to be my profession, I’ve always kept up with the major apps and choices out there. Most folks I spoke to over the years gave the impression that developing a photo app for the iPhone was something of a black art. The genre was full of “hacks,” tricks, false starts and banishments, and everything had to be done by feel, as Apple didn’t provide direct, official access to manual controls.

The salt in the wound was that competing operating systems like Android and Windows Phone actually enabled more flexibility and complex photography far sooner than iOS.

I’m really, really happy that Apple now does, after all these years. I’ve gotten a lot of crap over telling people that I was a former pro photographer that had long since moved to an iPhone as my primary (read: most used) camera. I’ve never implied that the iPhone could best an SLR for quality and I wouldn’t shoot a wedding on an iPhone (yet) for a lot of reasons.

But the iPhone has done more to make great photography — in the plebian sense — than almost any camera in history.

I think you can put it right there with the Kodak Brownie, the Pentax K-1000 and the Canon Digital Rebel for releases that had the most effect on the democratization of photography. Yes, there were many other “pioneer” devices, but a select few have brought the ease and joy of quality photography within reach of millions or billions. The iPhone is one of those devices.

I used to sell cameras for a living, which I enjoyed a lot. When digital hit the wide consumer market — pretty much a year or two after I began — there was a massive surge in understanding that came along with it. Having the display right there for people to chimp may have evoked derision in some photographers (and I still think it’s a weakness of many pros born into digital, but that’s another story), but it also allowed people, for the first time, to see the effects of the changes they made in aperture, shutter speed and the like.

It wasn’t just that you could see the pictures instantly, it was that they gave you true feedback, creating a loop that contributed to greater understanding and improvement.

Now, the iPhone has that ability as well, and I’m really happy about it. If you’re looking to experience what I’m talking about then I’m sure your favorite camera replacement app likeCamera+ or VSCOcam will be updated to add them soon. Currently, I’m really enjoyingManual, by William Wilkinson, which provides a serene, useful manual experience for the iPhone.

There could be some argument that apps like Manual — or the equivalent apps for Android or Windows Phone — are “for experts only,” but I disagree. Instead, they’re for the curious, those interested in taking better pictures and all “phone photographers.”

Which is pretty much all of us, when you think about it.


Google Search On Mobile Now Warns

Google is on track for mobile search queries to overtake those on desktop this year, and today it took one more step forward in how it is will control that experience on behalf of its users — for better or for worse. The company has announced that it will now flag to its users when websites listed in their search results may have elements that will not show up on a users’ device. That unsupported code today typically results in missing elements and blank screens.

To be clear, Google does not say that it will leave out those sites altogether in its search results, or bar you in any way from visiting them. But I suspect a lot of sites that are written with un-supportable code (even in part) will see a drop in their traffic as a result of those warnings.

Here’s how it will look. If you are using an iOS device or one running a later version of Android (4.1 or higher) the results will look a little something like this if you get a Flash-based site:

That will effectively pre-empt you from seeing screens like this one when you view an unsupported site on your device:

This is an interesting development for Google in light of a couple of other things.

The first is on the aesthetic side.

During its I/O developer event in June, the company made a big push on presenting its design language and ethos, embodied most succinctly in its “Material Design” guide but also permeating through other product launches before, during and after the event.

Google is not trying to be Apple per se, but it’s pushing hard at presenting a more unified and controlled ecosystem and experience. Better experience is where this kind of more tailored, user-specific web searching fits in perfectly.

It also fits with other changes that Google has made to the mobile search experience. In June, for example, it also started to flag “faulty redirects” — indicating when search links might send you to a “smartphone optimized” home page instead of to the page you wanted.

Again, these indications in search results can be viewed in very opposing ways. Some may be happy that Google is cutting down wasted clicking time. But some will be put off by how Google wants to steer you.

And some believe it’s only a partial advance in a bigger issue:

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 15.17.07

In keeping with the stronger and more unified experience, Google is also using the announcement to plug more use of HMTL5, which is universally supported on all devices, responsive design, and also two of its own, new website building tools: Web Fundamentals: “a curated source for modern best practices”; and Web Starter Kit: “a starter framework supporting the Web Fundamentals best practices out of the box.”

This is also a moment that Google uses to make sure developers are not trying to opt out of Google’s search algorithms, too.

“Be sure not to block crawling of any Googlebot of the page assets (CSS, JavaScript, and images) using robots.txt or otherwise,” write Keita Oda, Software Engineer, and , Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google UK, in the blog post.

“Being able to access these external files fully helps our algorithms detect your site’s responsive web design configuration and treat it appropriately. You can use the Fetch and render as Google feature in Webmaster Tools to test how our indexing algorithms see your site.”

The second is more directly in Google’s main line of business, search.

Just last week, we published a leaked document from Yelp highlighting claims that Google was altering the way that search results were being presented, with a shift to Google-focused content over that of its competitors.

That’s a long-standing argument, of course, but in mobile the competitive presence seems to be more acute. A recently published study found that the biggest rival to browser-based search (Google) is the rise of specific apps (such as Yelp’s). Making the browser experience more effective and less full of junk could be one way Google may be able to hold on to its audience there.

H/T @adders

Don’t Let iOS 8’s Accidental Selfie…

Who has already sent an accidental selfie in iOS 8’s Messages app?

I did.

I’m late to the game when it comes to iOS 8. Many of my fellow tech journalists weaseled their way onto the beta version of the operating system, but out of laziness, or perhaps a feigned belief that I can stay away from punditry of any kind, I normally wait to get the new version of Apple’s mobile OS with the public. iOS 8 was the same.

On Wednesday, I stared at my iPhone screen with the rest of the huddled masses, waiting for the coveted new OS to finally arrive. I fell asleep with my phone plugged in, safely connected to Wi-Fi, and slowly updating.

The new Messages app in iOS 8 represents a big shift for Apple. Though the company’s own messaging platform has shifted closer and closer to platform-agnostic chat apps over time (with the introduction of iMessage itself, as well as conventions like Read Receipts), iOS signifies the biggest push towards current social apps and communications apps.

For instance, iMessage in iOS 8 now lets you send voice memos and videos that expire unless you choose to keep them. These features are built into the new keyboard, with an icon on the right that you can hold down to record audio, and a familiar camera button on the left that is slightly more tricky.

If you tap this camera button, you are given the same options that you’ve always been given: Choose from Camera Roll or Take Photo or Video. If you hold the button down, however, two second buttons emerge: the top button is a camera and the button to the right is a red, circular record button. As The Verge points out, this behavior of holding down your thumb to send a photo or video is highly reminiscent of Snapchat.

Once you hold the button, you can release and press the camera or record button or simply slide your finger over to those buttons to take a pic or video.

But here’s the rub.

With both videos and voice memos, iMessage lets you review the content before sending it. You can play it back and then choose to delete or send it off into the world for other peoples’ viewing and judging pleasure.

With still pictures, however, the photo is automatically sent the second your finger releases the camera button.

Cut to me, waking up for the first time to iOS 8, and excitedly toying around with the new iMessage. I open up a conversation and start fiddling with the voice memos, safely staying in strict “draft” territory and playing back silly little audio notes. I then venture to the left, where my camera shortcuts live.

And before I can even realize it, I’ve sent out this:

I’m sure many of you are far more clever than I am, but if it helps anyone avoid my own mistakes, heed this warning: The camera shortcut in iMessage will automatically send photos the moment you release the shutter button.

The LifeTip Doesn’t Need To Touch You

You can’t swing a dead cat around without hitting a new wearable fitness tracker, and the latest to join the herd is called the LifeTip.

Recently launched on Indiegogo, the LifeTip doesn’t require any contact with the skin to work, and hooks into a woman’s bra or a man’s shirt. It reads all the standard stuff — activity, calories burned, and steps — but also goes into more tailored information like your itinerary, body temperature, and heart rate.

In fact, the LifeTip even measures your posture while standing and walking to make sure you’re upright and looking good.

Plus, the LifeTip can place an emergency call if the user goes into cardiac arrest suddenly, potentially saving lives.

Using capacitive technology, the device is able to measure all of these verticals without ever coming into contact with the skin, saving users from potential allergic reactions. Which, aswe’ve learned recently, can cause big problems for a company like this.

For women, the LifeTip magnetically attaches to the wire of your bra. For men, there are special LifeTip shirts (in three different colors) that hold the LifeTip tracker against the chest of the wearer.

As expected, the LifeTip tracker comes with a smartphone app, and is expected to last around three months on a single charge.

The LifeTip is available for pre-order now on Indiegogo.


PCs get access to iCloud Drive before Macs

If you’re a Windows user with an iPhone then you’re clear to enable iCloud Drive, but if you use a mix of Windows, Mac, and iOS then it’s worth waiting for Yosemite. If you don’t wait then you won’t be able to sync application data on a Mac until iCloud Drive is available with Yosemite. It’s an unusual move for Apple considering the company usually provides features to OS X first, but, asArs Technica points out, iCloud for Windows is still less functional than its OS X equivalent. iCloud for Windows still lacks iCloud Keychain syncing, a Find My Device function, and an option to sync notes directly. If you’re interested in enabling iCloud Drive then Apple’s iCloud for Windows update is available immediately from the company’s support site.

Apple’s Next iPad Could Sport Anti-Reflective Coating

Apple has a new iPad that has just gone into production, according to a new report fromBloomberg. The next Apple tablet will reportedly will reportedly come in both 9.7-inch (iPad Air) and 7.9-inch (iPad mini) flavors, per the news network’s sources, and will be equipped with a new anti-reflective coating that should make it easier to read in bright light situations.

The new iPads could be revealed as soon as the end of this quarter, or early next, which would be in keeping with the October reveal of new iOS tablets last year. The 9.7-inch model is said to be in production already, while the 7.9-inch model should also ship by the end of this year. The report also says that use of the new coating might restrict output of the bigger tablet, but that’s not surprising – Apple almost always has supply constraints on new model hardware when it first enters the production pipeline.

Apple has faced what amounts to a plateau in its tablet sales in the past few quarters, so new devices could inject some much-needed energy into sales of the iPad. There’s not much else revealed in the report from Bloomberg around specifics, but it’s likely both devices will benefit from improved processors, either the same ones that we’ll see debut in the upcoming iPhone 6 in September, or an upgraded version of the same.

What will be interesting is watching the effect that the new iPhone has on tablet sales – if rumors are true (and there are a number of credible reports around this now) the next iPhone will come in bigger screen sizes, including a 4.7-inch version, and a 5.5-inch model. It’s hardly crossing into iPad territory yet, but if those are indeed the dimensions of new devices, they’ll still be answering an apparent user interest in larger-screened devices, which, given the cooling tablet market, might suggest consumers are looking for one device where they were once happy to have a multitude.

Facebook Launches “Out-App Purchase” Ads

What if in-app purchases didn’t have to happen in-app? Rather than indirectly helping developers monetize with ads that drive them installs and re-engagement, Facebook today began letting them sell Facebook desktop game virtual goods straight from ads in the News Feed or sidebar.

But an even more lucrative opportunity could be bringing these “out-app purchase” ads to mobile. They could let Facebook earn money even if the 30 percent cut on in-app purchases goes to Apple or Google. Facebook already has the infrastructure in place, between re-engagement ads, coupon code auto-fill, and plenty of mobile feed impressions where it could place these ads.

For now, though, these out-app purchase ads can ony be bought on desktop, and Facebook told me it had nothing to share about future plans to do more to inspire mobile purchases. But on desktop, the ads are already working and they let Facebook double-dip. Developers pay to show the ads, then pay Facebook a 30 percent cut of desktop in-game purchases.


Kixeye used the out-app purchase ads to sell discounted virtual currency in its Facebook game Battle Pirates. The ads to buy $10 worth of in-game credit for $5 got a 10 percent click-through rate (way higher than the average), a 50 percent conversion rate for people who had paid in the game before, and a 14 percent conversion rate for users who hadn’t previously paid. Kixeye went whale spearing as well, getting a 5,000 percent return on investment by targeting their biggest spenders with ads for $500 worth of currency for $250.

These ads surely benefited from the big discounts Kixeye was handing out, but since the goods are virtual, it doesn’t have much to lose. The new ad format may have caught some extra eyes, too.

Of course there’s an argument to be made that these types of ads prey on social gaming addicts who spend real money on pointless, fake virtual goods. Many Facebook desktop games are framed as “entertainment” when in fact they’re utter time wasters that peddle quick dopamine hits rather than any lasting satisfaction.

But like it or not, that’s business. And it could be an even bigger one on mobile.


Right now Facebook earns much of its $1 billion mobile ad revenue each quarter indirectly helping developers get more people into their apps through install and re-engagement ads. These allow developers to get seen despite overcrowded app stores and homescreens.

As the popularity of the freemium model grows and more games don’t make you pay up front, the ROI on these ads becomes less clear. Monetization through in-app purchases isn’t directly connected to the user clicking on a Facebook ad —  they have to be hooked on an app enough to see value in spending money on it when they’ve seen all of the free content.

Out-App Purchase adsIf Facebook could bring its out-app purchase ads to mobile, it could prove obvious ROI like in the Kixeye example above. Of course, they probably couldn’t sell virtual goods from the mobile News Feed as they can on the desktop, since iOS and Android don’t allow in-app purchases to happen outside of their respective app stores.

Still, Facebook could show ads that deeplink directly to exclusive virtual good purchase pages in apps that can’t be navigated to normally. Alternatively, it could use thecoupon code auto-fill feature it announced at f8 to show a discount code in the ad, which when clicked would pop you into the app and auto-fill the code so you didn’t have to enter it manually.

Imagine if you already played a mobile game but beat all the levels. A few months later, the developer releases new levels as a $2 in-app purchase. Facebook could show an out-app purchase ad in its mobile feed that deeplinked you into the app where you could pay a discounted $1 rate to unlock the levels. Or rather than the conversion-focused re-engagement ad to the right telling people to generally “Shop Now,” Facebook could show a discounted sweater deal only available through the ad click.

These would essentially be Facebook’s existing re-engagement ads re-framed for driving immediate purchases. What developer wants engagement when they can get cold hard cash?

Facebook is now competing with Twitter to sell ads to developers. The big blue social network is especially equipped to push these ads because they know so much about us. Not only does it have our identity, social graph, and interests, its SDKs, Facebook Connect options, and auto-fill billing info e-commerce feature mean its learning tons about our behavior in other apps. Plus, with Facebook starting to track our real-time location, and hear what we’re listening to or watching, it’s collecting context about what we’re doing at any given moment and therefore what ads we might want to see. It could also lean on deeplink ad targeting services like URXfor assistance.

As former Facebook lead designer Soleio Cuervo wrote this morning, personalization is about identity, graphs, behavior and context. Personalized ads that lead straight to in-app purchases could be a boon to developers and become Facebook’s next cash cow after app install ads.


Facebook Tests Android L-Style Lock Screen Notifications

A new update for the test group of Facebook for Android users briefly enabled lockscreen notifications, at least for new message activity, before a later update today seems to have disabled the feature. The notifications looked very similar to the lock screen notifications Google showed off at I/O this year, one of the new upcoming features of Android L, the next major update for Google’s mobile OS. Facebook has confirmed to TechCrunch the update went out to a “small group of beta testers.”

The update doesn’t require Android L to be installed to work, however, as I encountered the new feature using an HTC One M8 running Android 4.4.2 with Sense 6. It features a Settings expander with viewing options, and tapping on the notification itself will take you to the Facebook app directly, after you unlock your device. As indicated on the notification itself, swiping will dismiss the notification and keep the device locked. Multiple notifications from multiple message senders stack visually one on top of the other.


I was only able to see message notifications because of the type of activity on my FB account during the test, but other FB activity was also included in the new test feature. Facebook often tests new features on Android, but they don’t always necessarily make it to a shipping release. Presumably once Android L becomes production software, it won’t be required, but Facebook could still gain a user attention advantage by delivering lock screen notifications regardless of what version of Android handset owners have installed on their devices.